Usually, when the lead investigator testifies in a murder trial, he is the one who nails the coffin shut. Chris Serino, the lead investigator in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, spent his two days on the witness stand prying the nails out.
Much to the prosecutors’ chagrin – he was their witness – Serino told the court that he believed George Zimmerman’s version of events of that fateful night of Feb. 26, 2012.
So compelling was Serino’s concession of Zimmerman’s truthfulness that the Tuesday proceedings began with the prosecution demanding that it be stricken from the record. It was, but the jurors will not erase it easily from their minds.
On Monday afternoon, defense attorney Mark O’Mara walked Serino through the details of what he called the “challenge interview.” This interview took place a few days after the shooting. Serino’s goal was to shake Zimmerman hard enough to alter his testimony.
In a challenge interview, the police officer will often bluff about evidence that he may not have. Serino did just that. At one point, for instance, he told Zimmerman that one of Martin’s hobbies was videotaping “everything he does.”
As a result, claimed Serino, Martin had a “very impressive” library of images trapped in his phone. Serino would have reviewed them all by now “but the battery died.” The SPD is “working on that,” said Serino.
This buildup led to Serino’s ultimate tease: “There’s a possibility that whatever happened between you and him is caught on videotape.”
The gambit did not work. Said Zimmerman simply and artlessly, “I prayed to God that someone videotaped it.” These were the last words the jurors heard on Monday afternoon.
On Tuesday, Serino’s testimony was not as compelling largely because he was being whipsawed by multiple crosses and re-crosses, each round growing less useful. If he seemed conflicted on the stand, there was a good reason why. He had been conflicted about the case from the beginning.
Within days of the shooting, various political forces began pushing and pulling on Serino. Serino would tell the FBI that three Sanford PD officers “were pressuring him to file charges against Zimmerman after the incident.” These were Sgt. Arthur Barnes and officers Rebecca Villalona and Trekelle Perkins.
In the Capias Request, Serino also reported matter-of-factly, “Zimmerman can be heard in the background frantically yelling for help.” In fact, Serino hesitated to press charges against Zimmerman because of this understanding.
On March 27, 2012, a month after the shooting, ABC’s Matt Gutman posted a story that warred with the facts on the ground, “Trayvon Martin Cop Wanted Charge.”
According to Gutman, Serino had recommended that Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter on the very night of the shooting.
Gutman’s charge was as thin as the state’s case has ultimately proved to be. As Serino’s testimony on Monday and Tuesday suggested, his career has been collateral damage in the state’s war on justice.
Four months after shooting, Serino was released from the investigative unit and sent to the patrol division. The Sanford PD passed this smackdown off as a voluntary transfer.
The media suggested that Serino was, in essence, demoted because he insisted on Zimmerman’s arrest against the will of his superiors – but then again, little that the major media have written about this case has proven true.